It started as a small, family-owned business whose goal was to preserve family memories …
Now, its a six-figure company with an even bigger goal of empowering people to share their food stories. Over the past 20 years, Virginie Martocq and her family have established a reputable cookbook company, Heritage Cookbook, selling books to families and individuals, fundraising organizations and bloggers, and even restaurants and caterers.
But Heritage Cookbook wasn’t always intended to be a large venture …
Initially, the idea was sparked when Martocq’s mother decided to keep the family legacy alive through a collection of family recipes. Having married a Frenchman, her mother spent years experimenting with hundreds of French recipes, adding her own special ingredients to each.
Both Virginie and her sister were born and raised in France, which allowed them to fully immerse themselves in the culture their mother so loved. It wasn’t until Virginie was a teenager when the family decided to move back to North America. Then suddenly, her mother cooked up the idea to make her special recipes available to the public — thus, Heritage Cookbook was born.
While the business had a humble beginning, it quickly began to grow, and people fell in love with the Martocq’s family recipes. Here’s how Virginie is continuing that legacy today.
Cooking Up a Business Idea
“When my mom started the company, she thought it would be a good tool for people to preserve family memories,” writes Virginie on Starter Story. “[Then] she moved back to North America … [and] brought with her a love of family recipes and of course, good food.”
Together with her younger sister, Virginie began introducing their mother to online publishing, and the family soon launched their first virtual cookbook. About ten years later, the Martocq’s mother died from breast cancer at age 64, handing off the company to her two daughters.
At this time, Virginie’s sister was working as a full-time mom, and Virginie herself was an editor for a large women’s interest magazine. Continuing the family business suddenly became a big undertaking for the two sisters.
“When we inherited the company, it was already about ten years old and the website was looking tired and dated. But people loved it, and it had potential,” continues Virginie. The Martocq sisters decided to re-design the website, giving it a more modern feel while still preserving the culinary traditions of their late mother.
The Road to Redesigning the Company
Since the website was so heavily dated, the road to redesigning it was a pricey one, but worth it for the Martocq sisters to continue their mother’s legacy. By the end, they had spent $80,00 total revamping the company — $10,000 on design and $70,000 on programming.
Now, with a fresh new look, Heritage Cookbook began doubling in sales. However, Virginie was now juggling two full-time jobs while also working with her sister as a freelance interior designer.
Though the Heritage Cookbook was making a steady revenue, the company’s programmer announced he was quitting four years after the initial redesign of the business. On top of that, Virginie’s sister decided to leave the company. Suddenly, Virginie had a weighty decision on her shoulders — close the company or continue to Heritage Cookbook on her own.
Continuing the Family Legacy
The Martocq sisters agreed: Virginie would buy her sisters shares, taking full ownership of the company. Though Virginie was well aware of the uncertainty that came with running a business in such a completive market, she was fully prepared to take on the responsibility.
With a desire to hit new and higher growth targets, Virginie sought out a new team of developers to help her rebrand the company. “I knew people loved the business, loved the product, and demand was growing for online self-publishing tools,” comments Virginie.
“It felt like the right moment to invest and rebrand.”
Reaching New Heights and Rebranding the Family Business
The first version of the Heritage Cookbook logo was very simple: “The look of it was brown and yellow, and the logo was based on a book and knife, and fork.”
Since Virginie was now targeting the younger generation, she knew something had to be done about the overall look and feel of the brand. After working together with a few of her contact in the publishing industry, Virginie produced 50 new templates and 3 new bindings for the family cookbook.
While the process of rebranding was exciting, Virginie was concerned about losing the interest of their older demographic. “We were so worried they would be put off by the more modern look and feel.”
Additionally, Virginie decided not to do a formal brand relaunch. Instead, her team prepared a few emails for their current customers, crossed their fingers, and hoped they’d maintain a good track record.
Overcoming Obstacles as a Business Owner
Initially, the company did well for a couple of years after the rebranding. Then, around the time Virginie’s sister decided to leave the company, the company’s cookbook sales abruptly declined.
“There were a few close moments though when I thought it was all going to fall apart.” To save the business, Virginie hired an entirely new team, consisting of a photographer, programmer, web designer, accountant, and a few lawyers.
Now, some years later — including a few thousand dollars, a dozen employee quarrels, fires, rehires, and a global pandemic — Heritage Cookbook is back up and running after its most recent site launch earlier this October.
A ‘Tasty’ Recipe for Success
Despite, the challenges she’s experienced along the way, Virginie remains confident about the company’s new brand relaunch. “I know that with the new program and new products, Heritage Cookbook is going to be the best company out there for anyone wanting to make a cookbook.”
Though the company has a new look and design, Heritage Cookbook still retains much of its traditional charm and the goal of empowering people to share in their joy of cooking — still holding true to their mother’s vision of bringing families, friends, an communities together through food.
On the subject of advice for other entrepreneurs looking to starting a business, Virginie concludes with, “Do something that you know or love. You will work really hard, all the time, so it should be in a field that you at least understand, or have some passion or experience in.”